How Silkwood School is creating personalised online learning courses to drive student and staff engagement

In a world where digital is transforming the way we teach and learn, it can be argued that online, mobile and blended learning are foregone conclusions.

According to the NMC and Educause 2017 Horizon Report, education institutions that do not already have robust strategies in place for these new learning approaches, will simply not survive.

And while many universities and schools across Australia have solid online learning programs and strategies in place, fluency in the digital realm is more than just understanding how to use technology.

Developing online learning resources requires a deep understanding of digital environments and the buy-in of educators to ensure that these new tools and learning platforms can ultimately have a positive influence on student engagement and learning outcomes.

What’s more, creating and rolling-out online learning resources can also be a time consuming task, so educators need to be clever about how they design these resources to ensure their time is used efficiently and effectively.

Ahead of the 3rd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2018, Sandra Lipinski eLearning manager, at Silkwood School explores the steps she has taken at her school to provide a framework for the effective creation of digital and multi-media resources and the impact this is having on student and teacher engagement.

eLearning at Silkwood School: an overview

“At Silkwood School we are using online learning to support flexible learning plans. Each of our students have a completely personalised learning plan and we are developing an advisory online learning model with small class numbers to ensure tailored and personalised learning.

At the moment our focus is on providing support for this personalised learning approach, but in the coming years we will be branching out this personalised model to distance learning and home schooling as well.

We are using BrightSpace by D2L as our online management platform and we have digital portfolios and learning object resources storage within that as well.”

Creating an efficient approach to developing and designing online courses

“We face the additional challenge that not all our students are doing the same course in detail. For example, it might be that they are all involved in a course on the same general topic, but each student is able to choose their own pathway through that course. Students are actively involved in setting their own learning goals and can design their own assessment pieces as well.

From a young age our students are collecting their own work samples to demonstrate their learning. A lot of online learning models take a mass education approach where a course is created and the students work through that course as a cohort. All students are doing the same assessment pieces, produce the same comparative data and get a certificate at the end.

At Silkwood School, our online programs do not work this way, but a lot of the same principles apply. For example, consistency and flexibility between courses to make it familiar to staff and students is essential.

But when we create a traditional online learning course, our aim is to update each course regularly and add new and exciting themes. Our aim is to design our online courses with flexibility in mind so that staff and students can work together to co-design new approaches to already existing courses.”

Developing online courses for different stages of the learner journey

“The first step to developing personalised learning courses for different stages of the student journey is to train staff to be critically reflective and identify what parts of the course will have the greatest amount of change over time.

We also identify which parts of the course drive the core knowledge that a student will need and we focus on those core elements. For example, it comes down to things like how we name the courses, how we number them and how we tag them so that different elements of various courses can be used in other courses and year levels. It encourages staff to share online learning resources.

It is a two-fold approach. The first part is critically analysing effective change and what we can create that is not likely to change. The second part is describing and labeling those elements in a way that makes it easily usable and shareable for others.

For Silkwood School specifically, we have a large amount of courses and resources that have high amounts of change because of the personalised learning approach we take. In this approach, we train the student to access and search for online components themselves, because there are already a number of resources available of them on the internet or links to other online course repositories. Students are trained to be more responsible for their learning and source some of the online courses themselves.”

Addressing challenges along the way

“The first challenge is always teacher training. The first element of this is the teacher’s ability to use technology themselves. It’s important to understand what technology teachers are familiar with and making sure we fill any gaps in skills.

The other aspect of teacher training is educating them to be critical thinkers as far as choosing the technology that is best for their teaching practice. For example, focusing on learning outcomes, what they want to achieve and choosing technology to support this. It is about not just using technology for the sake of technology.

For example, at Silkwood School we have video cameras and there is always a number ideas from staff about how these cameras can be used. But it’s important to always come back to the question: what is your learning goal? Our aim is to get staff to think about what they are trying to achieve as far as pedagogy goes, not just using the technology because it is there.

When it comes to online learning our aim is to ensure staff are critical thinkers in terms of pedagogy. We want to develop good eLearning practice, as well as training around how to use new technology and how to teach with it.

Another challenge is also the pace of change within our organisation. This is something every organisation is faced with at the moment as innovation is transforming schools and universities alike. We have to keep up with classroom design and what technology is being used globally to continue to drive innovation.

Parents’ perception of online learning is another challenge. Most parents these days did not learn in school about how to use technology and they don’t understand what it can do in terms of boosting learning, and, also what it can do to hinder learning. For example, some parents are scared about things from blue light to screen time. Out aim is to inform parents about our goals and what we want to achieve through online learning so that they can understand.

Over the past couple of years there has also been a bigger government emphasis on STEM and coding which is also driving a shift in the parental understanding. There are so many teaching pedagogies around 21st century learning and and we are finding more recently that parents are also pro-21st century learning.

In our direct neighbourhood, primary school students will have Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) one-to-one devices within the next few years and this will flow through as they enter higher education. Technology is becoming embedded in the learning environment and we have to make sure that teachers keep up with them.”

Linking online learning to pedagogy

“The first part of linking online learning to pedagogy, is to ensure staff have a clear focus of what they are aiming to achieve from an educational perspective when using new technology in the classroom. Not just want hey are trying to achieve with technology, but what they are trying to achieve educationally with the tools that technology provides.

Ensuring staff are focused on this element is a very important thing because we are validating them and their knowledge as teachers first before we provide new technology.

For us a big thing was gaining trust and building relationships with the staff. In the past, poor relationships between educators and IT existed. Our aim was to improve this relationship and help staff to get help as quick as possible. We are being very proactive in how our IT staff can help and work with educators.

For example, our IT staff observe how educators are using technology in the classroom and work with them to try and stop any problems that might arise from using technology before they happen. It’s about ensuring our IT staff are approachable and can make staff lives easier, which has been a big development.

Because we have personalised learning plans for students at Silkwood, we also have a heavy focus on personalised staff development and training. We are using technology so that staff have personalised learning plans and online courses that they use for training. By being a student themselves and using these online resources it’s creating a great dialogue around the benefits of new online technologies that they can then implement in their own classrooms.

For example, if staff are not quite ready for implementing a new technology or tool in the classroom, we build it into the staff courses first. This helps us to test out the new online platform in a staff environment with adults and gives them the ability to see if they can re-use it in their own classroom environment with younger learners.”

Results to date

“Since taking this approach to online learning we have seen a shift in what classroom time is used for. Rather than students copying notes from a blackboard, they now have direct access to those notes online. This frees up class time for students to work on mastering skills for taking their learning deeper, as well as demonstrating the mastery of those skills. There is less wasted time on lower order thinking and more time for in-depth learning on those higher order thinking tasks.”

Interested in learning more?

Join Sandra at the 3rd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2018 where she will further explore:

  • Design principles that increase the chances of reusing and repurposing those resources
  • Tips that will help teachers and institutions to reduce the waste when resources cannot be used repeatedly, and to reduce the amount of updating required as courses change over time
  • A guide to developing resources that can be used across many courses and age groups

For more information visit or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email




How 3 universities are taking online and eLearning learning to the next level to drive a personalised student experience

Over the past five years online education has exploded across the Australian higher education sector. Technological advancements and changing student expectations have made the online education model an increasingly viable option for learning.

And as the student demand for online learning continues to soar, there is no doubt that the way that we teach and learn is set to transform even more in the coming years.

But does the growth of online learning mean that traditional bricks and mortar learning models will have no place in the future?

According to a recent survey of students by online teaching company Studiosity, 19 per cent of Australian tertiary students think physical campuses will cease to exist with in 20 years time.

Similarly, another study by Australian Science revealed 50 percent of students surveyed liked their online course materials, while just over 30 percent said the same about traditional coursework.

With so much change on the horizon, what steps can universities take to ensure their approach to online learning can transform the student learning experience into something which is fulfilling, rewarding and personalised? What’s more, how can universities go about creating the perfect marriage of educator engagement and student ROI when rollingout new online learning models?

To answer these questions, ahead of the 3rd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2018, we have compiled three case studies which explore the different approaches three Australian universities are taking to improve student engagement and personalisation of the learning process through innovative online learning strategies.


In the eBook, you can learn more about:

  • Deakin University is developing and implementing FutureLearn – a MOOC which aims to create a real-world learning experience for students\
  • Charles Sturt University is engaging students through new interactive and adaptive online learning experiences
  • Sydney University is using data to help build engaging student-teacher connections to improve online learning engagement

Download the eBook here!


For more information about the 3rd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2018 download the agenda or visit the website

Engaging Students through new interactive and adaptive online learning experiences at Charles Sturt University

In an age where technological change is moving at an exponential pace, online learning has taken front and centre stage in the Higher Education sector as a key way  to improve learner engagement and outcomes.

And as improvements in digital capabilities continue to evolve, universities must move beyond the traditional method of online education purely based for content provision, to a comprehensive engagement-oriented ecosystem for learning.

At Charles Sturt University, this is becoming a reality through the u!magine innovation unit’s Online Learning Model (OLM). The OLM consists of 7 elements and makes use of online technologies to engage all stakeholders holistically to ensure a connected learning experience.

Ahead of the 2nd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2017, we caught up with Julie Lindsay, Quality Learning and Teaching Leader (Online) at Charles Sturt University, to find out the strategies being used across Charles Sturt to design and develop online learning in order to improve the student experience and maximise learner engagement.

The vision: developing an engaging online learning environment

“Our Online Learning strategy at Charles Sturt University is based around the need to provide an engaging online environment. Our focus is on engagement and interaction and this is at the centre of everything we’re doing.

We’re particularly focused on continuing to make the shift from being a distance education provider to being an online learning provider and a champion in online learning.

Online learning has a number of different learning elements and over the past year we have developed an OLM to increase student engagement, address some of the recent attrition issues we have experienced and provide more enhanced subjects and courses.

Our OLM has seven elements, which include:

  • Learning communities,
  • Interaction between students,
  • Teacher presence,
  • Interaction with professions,
  • Flexible and adaptive learning,
  • Interactive Resources, and;
  • E-assessment

Each of the seven elements of the OLM are designed to increase one or more types of engagement and combined together in varying degrees of intensity within the subjects making up a course. We are working on implementing these seven elements into subjects and courses.”

Creating flexible and adaptive learning through online platforms

 “We are using a number of strategies to facilitate flexible learning online. We’re looking at different subjects and discussing the different elements of each subject with academics. For example, asking what are the learning outcomes? What do the academics want to see happen in their subject? Based on the feedback from these questions we can then build the types of environments and courses to facilitate these needs and outcomes.

One of the main elements we focus on all the time is establishing and fostering learning communities. This involves interactions between students and teachers and looking at how we can help teachers establish an online presence and identity, right through to being a fluent online practioner and understand emerging technologies that support online learning.

Creating flexible learning for students involves a lot of conversations with academics around the appropriateness of different online learning elements for a particular subject. It is not a one-size-fits-all. It is a flexible model which can adapt in terms of the needs of students.”

Keeping learning personalised through multi-media tools

“Our Learning Management System (LMS) Blackboard has certain limitations when it comes to creating a personalised student experience. So we’re working within the LMS, but we’re also going beyond it.

We’re scaling up the look and feel of our Blackboard interface by  improving the design and presentation of our modules and working on a new discussion forum design and management within this tool.

We also have WordPress implementation happening across the University. It is called ThinkSpace and many subjects are now picking this up and using it as a blogging and journaling tool for students. This is also a tool that works in a professional context because students can export and take information away from this platform to their own WordPress website at the end of the course.

We’re also using a number of other Web 2.0 tools to provide interaction, collaboration, sharing and digital scholarships. These involve things like Twitter, Padlet, Ego, Flipgrid and VoiceThread. We are aligning these tools with the need for visibility in online learning. Tools like Flipgrid, VoiceThread and Padlet provide students with opportunities to easily post multi-media and share who they are, what they think and what resources they want to share.

It is also important to note that all these platforms can be password protected. While I tend to encourage students to make things as visible as possible, we still provide students with a choice. Some students prefer not to have work visible, so it is all part of digital censorship and digital fluency.”

Enabling students to shape their own online learning experience

“This is a big conversation in the University at the moment. Some students are telling us they just want to get the content, do the assessments, get the degree and leave when it comes to learning. Whereas other students are telling us they want to be collaborative, interact with peers and co-construct knowledge in an active, vibrant learning community.

We’re currently in a transition period where we are giving students choices to shape the type of learning experience they want. It is also important to provide opportunities for students to work with small groups. Some of our subjects have 500 students in them which can be very alienating. We’re trying to work our how we break down our learning community in smaller groups.

Some areas we are considering are: what is the best learning community size? How do we create communities within a community? How can we foster good interaction between students? This is where the understanding of the teacher presence to manage additional online tools and discussion tools is very important.”

The challenge: educating academics about the value of online learning

“Apart from the traditional student who simply wants to read a book and write an essay, the main challenge we’re facing is academics not understanding the importance of change to accommodate online learning models.

If they have not had the experience of connected and collaborative learning themselves, it is difficult for them to understand the value. The work we’re doing is to trying to affect this shift in academia as much as we can, because it is a big challenge.

To achieve this, we’re providing ongoing support and there is a program that we have to bring subjects into the OLM. We’re running professional learning and we’re scaling up certain courses across the university and taking both a course-wide and subject-wide approach to online learning.”

Interested in learning more?

Join Julie and the 2nd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2017 where she will further explore:

  • How u!magine is supporting interactive, flexible and adaptive learning for its students
  • Leveraging multimedia tools such as Blogs, Twitter and VoiceThread to build an engaging content learning community
  • Integrating the 7 OLM elements into subjects and across courses to improve the education experience
  • Overcoming pedagogical challenges involved with content development, teacher presence and online learning modes

For more information visit or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email




Online Learning at Monash University

Ahead of the 2nd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2017, we caught up with Kris Ryan, Academic Director at Monash University to find out about the core elements of Monash’s approach to online learning and how they are designing online learning programs that are engaging and create a personalised student experience.

Watch the video below to learn more about:

  • A brief overview of Monash University’s approach to online learning
  • Tools to monitor student progress and enagement in online learning
  • Using multi-media feedback to create a personalised learning experience for students
  • Challenges associated with using analytics to scale the development of online learning and how to overcome them

The 2nd Annual Online & E-Learning 2017 Summit held 20-21 June 2017, Sydney will explore leading digital learning initiatives employed by both education and corporate sectors in detail, providing practical solutions for Enhancing Learner Experience and Engagement with Digital and Mobile Technologies.

For more information download the brochure here or visit